John Bailey: Worried about Hidden Gems
December 7, 2009
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride” said John F. Kennedy. I am hopeful I will be able to continue mountain bicycling the great trails I have enjoyed riding in Colorado. I have been following the progress of the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal since its creation reviewing maps, visiting the locations and participating in meetings. I am excited that the Hidden Gems Campaign has grown awareness of some truly special areas. Presently none of the four mountain bike citizens groups from Eagle, Summit, Crested Butte and the Roaring Fork area fully approve of the current Hidden Gems proposal due to conflicts which the mountain bike groups have presented in detail to the Hidden Gems Campaign. These groups include ECO Trails, Summit Fat Tire Society, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and the International Mountain Bike Association. We live in a recreational tourism-based area, and mountain biking is an essential component of that tourism. Many towns – including Eagle and Crested Butte – are taking steps to promote mountain biking in their region. According to a 2006 study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, 35 percent of Colorado residents participate in bicycling, while 21 percent participate in snow sports. Bicycling provided $858 million in expenditures to the state’s economy. Despite what the Hidden Gems may state their current proposal will have a significant negative impact to mountain biking in Colorado. I hope the Hidden Gems group is solution minded and will work productively with the mountain bike citizens groups to come up with a comprehensive plan based on research and facts.
It is important to remember that Wilderness designation is not the only way to protect our lands. Congress has preserved natural resources and existing bicycle use by using a number of companion designations such as: National Scenic Area, National Protection Area, National Recreation Area and National Conservation Area.
Mountain bikers are passionate about outdoor recreation taking pleasure in the freedom to enjoy healthy, quiet recreation on public lands and are not anti-Wilderness – they are just pro-mountain biking. We are not stating mountain bikes belong everywhere and when mountain bike use is properly recognized, mountain bikers support new Wilderness proposals. However, mountain bikers also want to protect their favorite areas from mining, drilling, road building and so on.
I understand the current Hidden Gems proposal is still a work in progress and I am hopeful they will come out with a revised proposal after they have compiled accurate facts plus citizen input. It is not uncommon for a proposal to not pass the first time around, especially one of this magnitude. The Hidden Gems group has decided to put out a proposal and then host public comments. The USFS plus the BLM consult experts, hold public comment periods, gather information and then put out a proposal. I sincerely hope the Hidden Gems Campaign will be solution minded, work with other users groups and come up with a comprehensive public land protection bill that includes true Wilderness areas and adjacent companion protected areas.